Seven-year-old Hanna is non-verbal (with no medical explanation) and because she has been aggressive with other children, her mother, Suzette, homeschools her. Hanna, though, is becoming more difficult for her to manage, and she has challenges of her own with chronic Crohn’s Disease that has required several surgeries and a strict diet and regime of medication. In fact, she had intestinal surgery just weeks prior to the events in the novel.
Unfortunately, her husband, Alex, sees Hanna only as a precious, misunderstood child. In some cases, he blames feedback from the school on the administration. In other cases, Suzette hasn’t even told him the full story because she fears that it will shatter his image of the perfect family and imperil her relationship with him. Because of her insecurity due to her illness, she doesn’t want to reveal the extent of her problems at home.
However, Hanna’s aggressive behavior was escalating, and it seemed to be directed at Suzette. Suzette desperately needed Alex as an ally, but no matter what Hanna did, he made excuses for her behavior. She feels less and less competent–physically and mentally–to care for their child, and can’t imagine what must happen to get Alex to see things from her point of view.
The book shifts perspective between Suzette who is concerned, anxious, guilty, and angry, and Hanna, who is creepy though somewhat interesting. I’m not really around children, so I don’t know if Hanna’s behavior is realistic for her age, but I guess that’s irrelevant! As I was reading the book, I kept updating my husband on her latest evil shenanigans, and he kept responding, “What’s the point of this book?”
I think one answer is to question what happens when a person you are supposed to love–your child–is unlovable. Another theme is what happens when a person who is supposed to love you–your husband–doesn’t believe you. But the most interesting aspect of the novel to me was not fully developed, and it was Suzette’s dark side. There were intimations she was not a kind and innocent mother, but as tantalizing as these moments were, they were quickly glossed over. I was very curious how they contributed to the family dynamics.
To me, the writing style didn’t flow smoothly. In fact, if I didn’t know this was written in English, I would have bet a high sum that the novel was translated from a Nordic language. I was also disturbed by the implication that Alex valued Suzette primarily for her looks and Suzette’s acceptance of that. And this is tabling the disservice the book might do to children with mental illnesses.
While the concept was interesting and I was excited to read the novel, Baby Teeth as a whole didn’t work for me.